Can I recycle this? A beginners guide to recycling plastic

by Sarah Moyes, Social Media Volunteer

It would be a lot easier if we could just recycle all plastics, but currently this is not the case. It means that sometimes it can be a bit of a minefield trying to work out what items we can recycle and where. Here’s some tips to steer you in the right direction.

In Scotland, you’ll either have your own individual recycling bin or communal bins which will be shared by multiple residents.  The most commonly recyclable plastic items that can be placed in either type of bin are usually hard, rigid plastics, such as:

  • Plastic bottles – drinks, shampoo, milk
  • Plastic tubs – butter, ice cream, spread
  • Plastic pots – yoghurt, soup
  • Plastic trays – fruit, vegetables

Remember – it’s really important that you clean out your plastic items before placing them in recycling bins, especially if they had food inside them before. Plastic contaminated by food can’t always be recycled. You also need to make sure that you remove any film lids or padding from plastic trays as these cannot be recycled, and lots of fruit and vegetables will be packed this way.

The Unrecyclables

However, even if your recycle bin takes plastics, there are a lot of plastic items that won’t be accepted. So you need to remember that none of these items can be put in your recycling bins.

  • Plastic bags
  • Crisp packets
  • Cling film
  • Plastic toys
  • Sweet wrappers and packets
  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Cat food pouches

While you can’t recycle plastic bags in any local street recycling bins, many big chain supermarkets will actually have facilities at their stores that you can recycle plastic bags in. There are also other items that can be recycled alongside plastic bags in supermarket facilities including:

  • Plastic bags from cereal
  • Bread bags
  • Plastic wrappers from toilet rolls.

Still not sure?

If you’re unsure if plastic items can be recycled, then always check the label first. This logo and it’s variations is used in the UK tosay if it’s something that can be widely recycled, if you need to check local recycling or if it’s not currently recyclable..


It’s important to remember that these logos do not show that an item is recycled in your area,  and don’t even guarantee that it’s even recyclable.




 Check out Recycle Now’s website for more information on recycling logos.


While it’s really important that you recycle any recyclable items rather than throwing them in the rubbish bin, Plastic Free Scotland would always encourage you to reuse items as much as possible.  For example, plastic spread tubs are great for freezing portions of meals!

Plastic bags can be reused over and over before they have to be recycled and you there’s no need to buy multiple plastic bottles of water when you can refill one up from the tap. So next time you’re about to recycle something, think about how you could reuse it first. You might find some surprising uses for all the plastic bottles in your house!


Have tips, advice or questions? Leave a comment, or check out our Plastic Free Scotland Facebook group for advice

Sarah is Plastic Free Scotland’s social media volunteer

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